Ireland And The Cold War

Joe Jamison reviews Ireland And The Cold War: diplomacy and recognition, 1949-63 by Paula A. Wylie , Irish Academic Press, ISBN 071653376 6, £22.50 pbk

Ireland and the Cold War

THIS IS not one for the general reader. Only in passing does the book make generalizations about Irish history as a whole, or even Irish diplomatic history as a whole. The Cold War, though mentioned in the title, is merely a factual backdrop to one slice of Irish diplomatic history -- the Irish state's recognition policy -- in one period, 1949-1963.

To be sure, that was an interesting and formative period. The Cold War began in 1945-46. The Marshall Plan was proposed 1947. NATO was formed in 1948. Ireland's Dominion status ended in 1949. Ireland was admitted to the UN in 1955. In 1961 Ireland applied for EEC membership, a fateful step whose consequences are still at the center of Irish political debate in 2008.

The thesis of the book is stated in a foreword by Dermot Keogh, Paula Wylie's mentor at University College Cork:

"...her primary research question was 'when in the course of defining Ireland's international interests, does Ireland open the way to bilateral diplomatic relations by recognizing an entity as a state?' The author concluded that Irish policy in the area was not ad hoc. There were logic and coherence to the Irish stance in the period under review. Irish national interest was advanced during the early years of the Cold War."

Her method of study is synthetic, drawing upon international law, diplomatic history, and newly opened archives to shed light on Ireland's policy of diplomatic recognition of "emerging and reconstituted states."

The author believes after the Second World War there four persistent interests that anchored Irish foreign policy 1) the desire to end partition; 2) the commitment to neutrality as a security and economic policy; 3) the transition from protectionism in economic policy to expansion of international trade and 4) an "exaggerated" need to achieve prestige in the international system.

Why "exaggerated"? It's unclear to this reviewer. It seems to contradict her own view that a partitioned country -- having received its own state recognition only in 1949 after thirty years of struggle -- would have every reason to crave prestige in the international political system in 1949 and after.

Wylie herself writes "the critical factors in early Irish foreign policy though, were not administrative elegance and streamlined decision-making, the guiding principle to all Irish foreign policy during the late 1940s and 1950s was survival."

Wylie admires the pragmatism of Irish foreign policy in 1949-1963, and lauds Irish diplomacy in this period, sympathizing with the difficulties in balancing Irish national interests, international legal principles, and domestic political concerns in a complicated world dominated by the US-USSR conflict.

The core of the book is in two chapters: Ireland in the world system, 1949-63; and Irish recognition policy and practice, 1949-63. The rest of the book is devoted to three case studies: the non-recognition of Israel, China, Vietnam, and East Germany. In each case a different rationale was used for non-recognition.

What can be learned from the recognition policy of the Irish state? She maintains that the study of recognition policy reveals concretely how Irish diplomacy served the key interests of the Irish state in this period. Despite the academic language and disinterested tone of a researcher "above the battle," Wylie clearly sympathizes with Irish nationalism's goals.

The reviewer found especially interesting the materials from newly opened archives. Irish military and government sources explicitly state their view that that Irish neutrality, and its implications in the event of another general war in Europe, underlay the US and UK official attitudes to partition. This may be a truism, in Ireland, but this is still not well understood in Irish America.

Wylie refers to a November 1949 secret [Irish] military headquarters report, which outlined "Ireland's position on NATO from a strategic as well as a partition viewpoint." She states:

"The report contained several faulty assumptions concerning the strategic value of Ireland and partition used as a linkage. The Irish military planners were convinced of Ireland's strategic position in the North Atlantic area although a long term full scale war had ended only four years previously without Ireland."

She believes a 1958 memo by Con Cremin, the secretary of the Department of External Affairs from 1957 to 1963 was "more realistic." He argued that Ireland's non-participation in NATO was justifiable because it might expose Ireland to military attack, would require much higher Irish military expenditure, would entail the installation of NATO bases in the twenty-six counties, and would require the subordination of Irish foreign policy to more powerful NATO members.

Wylie's political assumptions are centrist, like most academic social science. You will find neither "national question" nor "imperialism" in the index.

The bibliography is extensive useful for the reader who wants to begin to read in this field.

Ireland and the Cold War has lots of interesting insights and facts about early postwar Irish diplomatic history. I found especially interesting the account of the diplomacy of Sean Mac Bride in the period of NATO's formation. Though for the general reader the book might be a penitential read, it can be a valuable study for the specialist, or aspiring specialist.

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2008-09-23 10:21:45.
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